Monday, August 20, 2012

The Great Canoe Adventure

On two sunny days in May, I had a truly Canadian experience. The first day, my friend Marty and I built a 17-foot, red canoe from scratch. Yes, in one single day! The second day we paddled our new canoe down the Thames River through the centre of London, Ontario. I was enthralled for canoes are mythical symbols of Canada. Birchbark canoes were used for millennia by Native peoples and then by voyageurs and courier-do-bois to open up this mighty land. Today, the canoe continues as an icon, connecting recreational paddlers to the rugged and vast wilderness of Canada.

Marty and I arrived early at the Nova Craft Company in London. The large building had racks of canoes everywhere, and about 20 workers were in various stages of canoe building. There was a bustling intensity for this was Nova Craft’s busy season, and they produce over 2,000 canoes each year.

Supervised by the smiling, knowledgeable Ray, we started by hauling a large sheet of special laminated plastic called Royalex into a large oven. Once the heat had softened the plastic, we pulled the sheet out the opposite end and into a mold in the shape of the Prospector canoe, based on the old Chestnut lineage. The two halves of the mold were clamped together and then the plastic cooled and hardened. Next, we removed the plastic, now in a canoe shape, and trimmed off the excess plastic with a router. Soon we were busy riveting on the gunwales, installing the seats and yoke and placing the registration tag. After five hours, our canoe was complete and Marty and I were as proud as new parents.

Next morning we launched our new baby into the Thames River, just upstream from the forks in downtown London. Happily, our canoe was seaworthy and behaved perfectly. Paddling lazily with the current under an azure sky, we passed the Jet d’Eau with beautiful arcs of water creating sparkling little rainbows. We continued downstream, surrounded by greenery. It was like being in the countryside. Fish jumped, a goose family paraded past with more than 20 little fuzzy goslings, birds chirped and a fisherman cast a long looping line into the water. It was hard to tell that we were in the centre of a busy city, and very apparent why London is called the Forest City.

Too soon it was over and we pulled our canoe from the water. No voyageur could have been happier!

(Photos courtey of SNAP London)

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